The state's second oldest opera company, West Bay Opera, born in 1955, is still breaking new ground this week, along with those other not-quite underdogs, the San Francisco Giants.
Although small (in terms of number of artists, funding and the size of its theater), West Bay happens to be known for its winning big productions, including this month's exciting big-league performances of Verdi's 1853 “Il Trovatore,” one of the composer's most popular works.
José Luis Moscovich, general director and conductor, led a Sunday matinee performance that went from sizzle to brilliance, maintaining an arc of tension, building to a finale that received a well-earned ovation in the packed Lucie Stern Theatre.
The potboiler story about the fatal curse of a gypsy unjustly burned at the stake is framed with some of Verdi's most memorable melodies (including a lynchpin of TV commercials, the Anvil Chorus) and exciting rhythms – all highlighted in West Bay's production, which featured large, easy-to-read English supertitles translated from the Italian libretto.
Moscovich – whose superb cast mostly featured singers active in the Bay Area – directed the small but excellent orchestra in a consistent, well-balanced performance, supporting yet never overwhelming the voices.
The exception is tenor James Callon from Los Angeles, who sang the difficult and showy title role with relish. His powerful chest voice and impressive high notes would be at home in much larger opera houses.
Well-known from local performances, soprano Cynthia Clayton and mezzo Patrice Houston shine in the leading roles of Leonora and Azucena, respectively. Krassen Karagiozov, in excellent voice and with assured stage presence, portrayed the villain, Count di Luna.
Chorus master Bruce Olstad gets credit for his small but powerful chorus; the men were especially impressive.
Making equally important contributions are stage director Igor Vieira, set designer Jean Francois Revon and costume designer Lisa Lutkenhouse Lowe.
Attesting to the quality of West Bay's production, an obvious pleasure for veteran fans of “Il Trovatore,” was the reaction of a 9-year-old first-timer in the audience who paid rapt attention throughout the three-hour performance on Sunday. This truly is opera for everyone.
Presented by West Bay Opera
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $40 to $75
Contact: (650) 424-9999, www.westbayopera.org